As this community correspondent’s column detailed in part back in January, Assiniboine Park can be a marvelous winter playground, in the veritable backyard of we fortunate Tuxedans.
It can also be a genuine seasonal wonderland in spots – which is to say, a place that here and there casts genuine enchantments.
One such spot was noted the other month, that being the Assiniboine Park Conservatory, whose magic hasn’t gone unnoticed by others: Shakespeare in the Ruins made the inspired decision to stage the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream there in 2006.
But to pay a visit to that humid tropical greenhouse at present amounts to an escape from winter – an understandable course of action, yes, but one can alternatively try to make the most of the season’s charms at a less obvious location.
The Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, opened in 1992, is one of the city’s undisputed treasures. Upon initial reflection, it would seem to hold more allure during the less, shall we say, thermally challenged months, especially when bathed in the gold of the seasonal evening light.
Yet one might consider a visit in this inhospitable season – for perhaps even more so in winter, the place becomes a veritable dreamscape.
Mol, a member of the Order of Canada who died in 2009, donated the statuary to make the eponymous garden possible. The sculptures themselves range in subject matter from the biblical Moses to cute forest creatures to various ladies sans vetements (cough).
The artist’s recurring fondness for the unclothed female form elicits an obvious chuckle; like the Golden Boy atop the Manitoba Legislature, it’s a pitifully funny thought, all those unfortunate naked ladies out in the cold.
With a highlight of snow resting on and highlighting their dark bronze forms, however, all the statues seem even more permanent – genuinely frozen in space and time, and impervious to the elements.
Perhaps one of the reasons statues of living creatures, especially human figures, captivate us so is their capacity to outlive their mortal objects of imitation. With their own hands and skills, humans are able to mold in their own image a thing that apprehends some sense of immortality.
Alternatively, Mol’s pantheon in winter possesses some measure of wabi-sabi – the Japanese esthetic notion of bittersweet pleasure in the austere, the weathered, the melancholy and the ephemeral.
And it can all also warm one through by firing the kilns of imagination. In his 2007 personal fantasia of his home city, My Winnipeg, filmmaker Guy Maddin visualized a band of ghostly horses emerging frozen from the river each year; treading about the Leo Mol site in the cold and the snow feels akin to strolling through his imagination.
Hence, think of the garden as a phantasmagoria. This writer is unsure of whether the winter garden inspired Maddin – though it might have, and really still should, for Winnipeg’s most celebrated auteur has always recognized the magic invisible to too many Winnipeggers.
Besides, it looks like winter’s going to be here for a spell longer yet – they who fail to find accommodation with misfortune are miserably discontented indeed.